Renovating the Bathroom

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Welcome to Albany Jane’s Adventures in Home Repair: Bathroom Edition. I am really enjoying this DIY home repair stuff. I realize it’s not for everyone, but I feel like I’ve taken quite well to plumbing so far. If you’d like to learn a few novice plumbing tricks, tips, and frustrations, read on.

When I first bought this house, the bathroom floor was covered in carpet, and it was old carpet. I was pretty squicked out by carpet in a bathroom. I mean, it seemed kind of unsanitary – all that carpeting holding in  moisture. It wasn’t tacked down or anything, so as soon as I closed and got the keys to the house, I pulled that carpeting out. Which left me with an equally unattractive slab floor.  My Dad came up the weekend I closed and discovered a major leak in one of the bathroom sink pipes. I wish I had take more original photos, but let’s just say that particleboard doesn’t make for a great bathroom vanity. Dad taught me how to change the pipes, and put the pressure on me when I couldn’t really find a vanity I liked “Albany Jane, you have to pick something. We’re not leaving until you do.”

I wound up getting this vanity with sink from Lowe’s for about $239. It was the only one they had in stock that I even remotely liked. I like the big basin of the sink. It’s a medium density fiberboard, which means it looks like wood but shows nicks and scratches very easily. But at the end of the day I’m happy with my “emergency” purchase.
It took us most of the day for Dad to teach me how to change the tubes. He has a good engineering mindset – I want to learn how to be more analytical when it comes to house project assessment.

So that was project one. Project two was actually getting a floor installed! I want to shop locally, but a lot of the flooring stores I tried to buy from have such archaic models – you have to go in for a meeting, or go in to the store. They won’t do very much over the phone. A friend had some old tiles left that she got from Top Tile. I was going to buy another box or two, and from what she said it wasn’t cheap, but quality stuff. When I called I told them I wanted to buy tiles and that I had the model number. The person put me on hold for a while, came back and told me no one could help me because they were all with customers. So I found their website and emailed them, I figured if they were busy with customers I could just email them what I wanted and the specs. But they never responded to my email, either. I wasn’t going to waste any more time trying to give them my business, so I just wound up buying some cheap white tiles from Home Depot for like $0.99/tile and figured it would give me some wiggle room in case I screwed up, or I could renovate again in the near future if I really hated it.

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But before the floor goes in, EVERYTHING has to go out. Out, out, out! Which began with the toilet. And the very beginning of Project: Toilet starts with turning off the water to the toilet. Which was stuck. Very calcified from mineral deposits over the years. Oh. No. As you can see from this pic, the space between the vanity and toilet is very small. Okay, I’d have to turn off the water, remove the toilet, change the valve, and then reconnect the toilet.

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This project would have gone a whole lot more smoothly if the toilet were not completely grouted to the ground. As in – would. Not. Budge. But thanks to some kind words of encouragement from Dave & Mr. Dave, I gave it a go with a hammer, flat-head screwdriver (in lieu of chisel), and then a hand saw when the chisel would only do so much.

P1020517My tools of victory. I wore the crap out of the “wood” tool on that hand saw thing.But it helped eliminate the seal the grout had with the bathroom floor.
P1020520Victory. Heck yes! Space between the ground!

P1020522And of course, safety first.
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Okay, now we’ve got the toilet out, let’s see what we can do about that valve. The water was off, but there were still a few drips (I suspect the “off” is not as tight on my master water supply. Which is a project for later), so hence the extra buckets and makeshift buckets (2L bottle cut in half)). It might seem like a basic water valve, but it is its own special beast. I think it was a 1/2″ inlet by 3/8″ outlet. There was only one on the shelf at Home Depot, and a fellow customer helped me find it. I’ve had mixed experience with employees at the Latham hardware stores. Home Depot just tends to be the one I go to since it is the closest one to me. But the other customers have been really nice. I ended up hugging the guy for helping me find the lone match, which seemed to really weird him out.

P1020531Adjustable wrenches and channel locks come in really handing for all plumbing projects. Have a few of different sizes around. If you’re trying to remove a stubborn valve or pipe that doesn’t want to come out, you can have counter pressure on a nearby bolt or nut so you don’t accidentally damage the pipes.
P1020535This valve required quite a bit of force to remove it, which I am generally quite timid about (I don’t want to break something and make the project even longer lasting…) but it did come off!
P1020536The new valve went on with ease, and didn’t drip at all when the water was turned back on. Plumbing success, hooray!
P1020539Here is where true demo begins. Everything that was on the floor was taken out of the bathroom, water valves turned off. This is the work space.
P1020540A better view of the valves that got to hang out – the hot and cold water for the sink, plus the drain. And the toilet water connection on the right. It’s wet on the bottom because of the earlier plumbing (spills, leaks, and drips are bound to happen. Have a bunch of towels on hand, but expect to get a little bit all over).
P1020541I bought these glacial white tiles from Home Depot. They seem to work with the white/light color scheme over all, but I am by no means a decorator. I laid down the tiles to see what patterns would work. This pattern worked for me in that it meant I had to cut the least amount of tile.

Tile cutting requires patience and finesse, but also a willingness to get a bit wet from the tile saw. I picked up a cheapie from Harbor Freight tools. It worked a whole heck of a lot better than the nipper and hand scorer I bought from Home Depot (which broke when I first used them, ugh!), but still – there’s a bit of a learning curve.
P1020542Grout time! Is grout supposed to be half full? The grout I picked up from Home Depot seemed like someone had used half of it and returned it. :/
But I didn’t need much grout for my small 15 sqft bathroom and 1sqft tiles.

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Applying Thin-Set to the ground for the tiles was pretty easy and uneventful. I started at the top of this picture/the edge of the tub and worked my way out of the door. I used 1/8″ spacers.
I wasn’t super happy with how I cut the two small tiles I needed, but then I realized it was my first time using a tile saw, and installing a floor, so I realized these things will happen and are part of the learning curve. I made a few more imperfect (but always less imperfect) cuts of tile until I reached a combination of “Ugh, it’s freezing out and I want to be done with this now,” and “You know what, this is my first time. Not everything is going to be perfect,”. Let it sit for a day or two to cure before proceeding to grout.

After applying the thin-set mortar to the tiles & slab floor, it was time to grout. Since this bathroom is so small, I just bought a small tub of pre-mixed, sanded grout.

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I had plenty of grout. This was also a very fun task. Splat, sponge, splat, sponge. Wait another day or two for the grout to set, and then you can put your bathroom back together.

Which is what I really wanted to do. Since I raised the floor of the bathroom, I had to carve out a notch in the back of the vanity to have room for the pipes. No big issue there. Shop vacs and hand saws come in super handy there.

However, it was at this point that I realized the old toilet was grouted a good 1/4″ underneath, and uneven. Instead of leveling the ground, the grout was applied on the bottom of the toilet to level the floor of the toilet. I’m impressed at the amount of work that went in to this. No one else I’ve talked to has ever heard of this ever happening. Needless to say, I smashed the heck out of one Johnnie O ring and grumbled as I dragged the toilet out to the garbage.

I went out to Lowe’s looking for a small, round-seat toilet and picked up an American Standard Mainstream model toilet. I think it was either this or a Kohler, and the reviews for the Kohler weren’t all that great. Most of the toilets available now are extended bowls.

P1020729Installing the toilet took an few hours of an afternoon for a novice like me, but the directions were really easy to follow. I also put in some wooden baseboards so I wouldn’t have jagged drywall gaps around the tile edges. Looks pretty nice for a gal who isn’t really into decorating and aesthetics.
P1020730And hey, now I have a full bathroom back, again!
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Take whatever time you plan on your project taking and multiply by 4. I thought I could bang out this bathroom in a day, but ba hahahaha, no. At my pace, it took closer to a month “Wait, let me just look up one more home repair video!”
Don’t expect anything to be cheap.
Some things may be cheap, but if you don’t have the tools, it’ll add up. Nothing is really cheap. Even the cheap stuff.
The projects never really end, do they? I’ve already got my eyes on that shelf and the mirror above it.

5 comments
  1. mr. dave said:

    Ha! Looks great. I am saying “Ha!” because I had to completely redo a bathroom of about the same size and dimensions in my house when I moved in. It had ugly pepto-pink tiles tacked to soggy old fiber board nailed into the original plaster and lath… A sink was wedged into a little nook, and it was an irregular size that no manufacturers really make anymore… When I was getting at the tile behind the sink I bumped the pipes and they exploded, lol! It was a huge pain in the ass, so I respect your work.

    Ain’t owning your own home fun?

  2. Court said:

    Great first job!! Will you work for mushroom pizza when I get into our house? 😉

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